By Lameez Omarjee and Tracey Ruff
In an effort to help improve and retain the level of specialised skills in the country, Wits University will be offering petroleum, oil and gas engineering as a third year specialisation option for chemical engineering students, as of next year.
This programme will be the first of its kind in South Africa and is aimed at meeting the needs of a growing demand for expertise in the hydrocarbon (petroleum, oil and gas) industry, especially with the recent discoveries of oil on the coast of South Africa.
Unfortunately, exorbitant amounts of money are spent on bringing in experts from abroad to work in the industry, especially in maintaining refineries in Africa which are getting old.
“The government brings expertise from overseas which (sic) they pay heavily, because we don’t have the skills in the country,” explained Professor Sunny Iyuke, head of school of chemical and metallurgical engineering at Wits.
According to Iyuke, there is a “big gap” in South Africa with “the skills to maintain the refineries” being largely absent. He believes South Africa has a “smart youth, which can be trained to attain these skills”.
Bridging the gap
Iyuke explained to Wits Vuvuzela that this is not a new degree, as “petroleum engineering is a component of chemical engineering”.
Wits currently offers a Master of Sciences (MSc) degree where students can specialise in petroleum, oil and gas engineering, but the plan is to introduce this training at an undergraduate level as a third year BSc specialisation.
During the first two years of undergraduate level, chemical engineering students will learn the basic principles of chemical engineering and in third year, they will have the option of taking petroleum engineering as an elective where they will apply their knowledge in courses like drilling, reservoir engineering (to understand how oil behaves underground) and lab work (working with safe amounts of crude oil).
The South African Petroleum Industries Association’s (SAPIA) board of governors is happy with the MSc program currently available at Wits, but it has been discovered that there is a gap in knowledge about petroleum engineering in postgraduate students.
According to Iyuke, “It is better that [students] have a background knowledge at undergraduate level [and] that is why we [Wits] are introducing this [programme] for our graduates to have that basis and background of petroleum engineering”.
With this initiative, Iyuke believes “our own people will develop others” instead of losing money by paying overseas experts.
Many students have responded positively to the plans.
Neo Khesa , 4th year chemical engineering said, “introducing petroleum and gas engineering is great because naturally it helps the country as it makes it cheaper to source skills from within the country than get them from abroad”.
“I want to go into the petroleum industry and I would have opted to do this course from second year if I had the option. It was the main reason I did chemical engineering in the first place,” added Khesa.
Fortune Mngomezulu, 1st year chemical engineering, is keen on going in this industry because “there’s a lot of money involved”.
We need to train Africans to solve African problems, because we will better understand them.
However, some students expressed their reservations about the idea, with Mohammed Sayanvala, 4th year chemical engineering saying, “I would prefer that South African students join the rest of the world in innovating with cleaner technology … We invite big companies from other countries to take advantage of our resources and none of it comes back to Africa. We need innovative, cleaner, greener and freer technology and courses to be introduced”.
Phutheo Magada, 3rd year chemical engineering, was concerned about whether there would be jobs available in the field. But Iyuke reassured him, “It [the petroleum] is a huge industry, if you don’t have a job here, you can always get one somewhere else, like Mozambique.”
Desmond Fiawoyife, PhD in metallurgical engineering, believes the offering of this programme at an undergraduate level is a good idea. “It’s a nice programme, because when you look at Africa, we have a lot of oil that has been discovered, especially in West Africa. We need to train Africans to solve African problems, because we will better understand them. We have a new dawn now. The days of getting expertise from abroad are over.”
Fiawoyife believes Wits’ plan to introduce the oil and gas programme is a step in the right direction and other universities will follow suit.
This article was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela